Two AGNR Faculty Members Honored at UMD’s Convocation Ceremony

Liangli (Lucy) Yu named a Distinguished University Professor and Sarah Balcom presented with the Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award.

Sarah Balcom and Liangli Yu at the Convocation Ceremony

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

September 15, 2022 Communications Staff

University of Maryland faculty and staff gathered at the UMD Memorial Chapel on September 14, 2022, for the annual convocation to officially usher in the academic year and celebrate the outstanding academic and service achievements of their peers. Two AGNR faculty members were honored with prestigious awards.

Liangli Yu, Distinguished University Professor

Liangli (Lucy) Yu, professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science was named a Distinguished University Professor. The title is the highest academic honor bestowed by the University of Maryland and is a recognition not just of excellence, but of impact and significant contribution to the nominee’s field, knowledge, profession, and/or practice.

Liangli Yu stands with UMD President Darryll Pines and VP and Provost Jennifer King Rice
Yiangli Yu receives her Distinguished University Professor award with UMD Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice (left) and President Darryll J. Pines (right.)

Yu’s pioneering research focuses on the chemistry and biochemistry of nutracueticals (foods with healthy and medicinal benefits), food safety chemistry, sustainable agricultural and food systems, and mechanisms involved in the biological functions of beneficial food compounds and food toxicants.

Yu’s many significant research contributions include the discovery of 3-MCPDE (a toxin produced during consumable oil refinement). Her work led to the development of new standards for reducing 3-MCPDE in refined oils, and regulatory actions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives.

Yu’s pioneering research in detecting food adulteration led to new approaches for differentiating organic and conventionally grown agricultural products, detecting several milk adulterants, and rapidly detecting “unknown” food toxicants.

Her idea for detecting “abnormal” components in foods has been adopted by the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), which sets quality, purity, strength and identity standards for medicines, food ingredients and dietary supplements in the U.S. and around the world.

Yu’s research on nutraceuticals has led to a better understanding of the beneficial components in wheat, soybeans, vegetables, seeds and spices, and revealed the impacts of baking methods on antioxidant properties of whole wheat products.

“The high caliber of Lucy’s research, particularly from the analytical perspective, has raised the bar for plant antioxidant research in the field,” says Bruce Hamaker, Distinguished Professor of Food Science at Purdue University. “Hers is a detailed chemical structure-based body of work."

As a professional leader, Yu has served in an editorial capacity for several food science journals and has helped enhance journal quality and foster more participation by Chinese and other Asian researchers.

Yu earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from China Pharmaceutical University and her doctoral degree from Purdue. She joined the University of Maryland as an assistant professor in 2003 and was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and full professor in 2009.

Her work has been cited over 17,700 times, with her findings published in more than 280 refereed articles and several books, chapters and patents. Yu is active in professional associations such as the American Chemical Society (ACS), the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) and the International Society of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods, and has garnered a slew of accolades, including the 2020 Stephen S. Chang Award for Lipid or Flavor Science from IFT.

Beyond her pioneering research, Yu is an accomplished mentor. Her doctoral students have also received various honors, including three AGNR Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year awards and first prize in an ACS graduate student dissertation research competition.

Her contributions to AGNR and the Department of Food Sciences have included spearheading collaborations with USDA-ARS Beltsville, which resulted in additional assistantships and training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, and developing relationships with two Chinese universities. She served as the Graduate program director and acting chair during a period of historically high enrollment.

“In my 40 years of university services as a food science professor, department head and college dean, I have worked with many talented professors,” says Cheng-I Wei, professor and acting chair of UMD’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science, citing technical skills, teaching ability and professional influence. “But in Dr. Yu’s case, you find all these talents in one person.”

Sarah Balcom, Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award

Sarah Balcom, principal lecturer in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences and director of its undergraduate program was honored with the Kirwan Undergraduate Education Award, which recognizes faculty or staff who have made exceptional contributions to the quality of undergraduate education at the university.

Sarah Balcom stands with UMD President Darryll J. Pines and Chancellor Emeritus William E. Kirwan
Sarah Balcom receives her award with UMD Chancellor Emeritus William E. Kirwan (left) and President Darryll J. Pines (right).

Balcom has made many significant contributions to teaching on campus, from the development of captivating courses, a revamping of her department’s advising and exceptional efforts to keep her students connected during COVID-19.

“Dr. Balcom has always demonstrated a tremendous commitment to excellence,” said Chad H. Stahl, professor and chair of animal and avian sciences. “Student evaluations for her courses are among the best in the department, despite students ranking her courses as being particularly rigorous.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary, Balcom received her master’s in animals and public policy and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Tufts University. She started at the University of Maryland in 2010 as a lecturer, working her way up to senior and then principal lecturer by 2020.

In that time, she has designed or redesigned several courses to fit students’ need. Those range from basics—like “Introduction to Animal Science” and “Introduction to Veterinary Medical Terminology”—to more advanced classes—like “Love Me, Hate Me, Use Me, Save Me: Our Conflicting Views of Animals,” also taught as an honors seminar, and “Sheep Management,” which includes the popular “lamb watch” experience that allows students to help ewes give birth.

“Dr. Balcom urges critical thinking rather than memorization, challenging her students to engage in discourse about relevant issues and engage in discussion with peers,” says Rachel Gagliardi ’18, one of Balcom’s former students. “She provides her students with the tools to be successful in any area of work, not just animal science.”

That dedication has been especially evident since the onset of the pandemic. To keep students connected, she created virtual tours of the department and the Campus Farm, hosted online career nights and wrote weekly check-in letters.

“I have been either been a student at or been employed at four different land-grant universities during my career and have never met another educator who was more capable or more passionate about improving the educational experience of students than Dr. Sarah Balcom,” says Angela Black, animal care program coordinator.

The prize carries an honorarium of $5000 and is awarded at the Campus Convocation each fall.